Op-Ed: Evolving my thoughts on Thorns FC Support

First, let me say that I want you, dear Reader, to understand that these words are coming from Mike Coleman, the soccer supporter and not Mike Coleman, the 107ist board member. As a 107ist board member, I will work to ensure we uphold our mission to support soccer in the Portland area from the grass roots to the highest levels. I will follow the lead of the membership, and work to ensure we continue to be Soccer City USA.  This may not always align 100% with what I may want, but that’s the way it should be.

That being said, there was a meeting Friday night – a lot of passionate people came out to determine how best to support Thorns FC. They bandied about questions and opinions, voted on names, thought about flags, talked about tifo, and designed their merchandise line.

This was all streamed over the Internet where several folks thought it was a better use of their time to throw stones instead of participating in the discussion.  It’s fun to mock people on Twitter (hell, I do it all the time), to cast aspersions, but not bring anything to the party – this is the American way in the Internet age.

As I sat back at the meeting, participating a bit as a supporter and answering questions about the role of the 107ist the best I could, I thought to myself “while a lot of this is a real clusterfuck, these folks are getting together and trying to move stuff forward – bravo for them”

Then I came home and I read Twitter. I saw folks I respected arguing with other folks I respected (as well as folks who I think are complete cotton-headed ninny muggins weighing in on both sides, when they should be turning the lights off in their parents’ basement and going to bed). There was even a sock created representing one of the final name choices. It was all entertaining, but simultaneously frustrating.

“You have to let this happen, you can’t dictate the culture, let it grow ORGANICALLY”

“How is calling for all interested parties to come together and talk about what they want to see not ORGANIC”

Repeat those two sentences about 500 times and you’ll get the nature of the argument.

My thoughts originally were more aligned with the “we are all working on this together, everyone is free to join in” crowd.

People who have been around a lot longer than me will say, “The Timbers Army took years to evolve. You can’t just fork lift in supporters’ culture and expect it be genuine”

To that many of us replied, we already know what to do. We’ve seen it in our own backyards for years. It’s not 2002, we have a cadre of volunteers, we have materials, and we have financial backing – it would be ludicrous to suggest that we forget that we know all this and go back to an age when there was no Twitter or Facebook and we didn’t have 4,000 flags sitting up in a cage above the field.

And then I read more. I read about how this is all for the “Mo’s” of the world (Mo is a teenage female TA who designed an initial scarf which was the genesis of the meeting last night). How this is for the teenage girls in Portland to give them role models, and show them they can pursue their dreams.

And that is great. That is something we need to do. We need to teach young women (and young men for that matter) how to derive self-worth from healthy avenues. Young boys growing up seeing stadiums full of people worshiping teams made of male athletes. Having a chance for young women to see an entire city stand behind a female team is nothing short of awesome filled with win dipped in incredible.

But what I realized this morning was that none of us know what the experience inside that stadium is going to be.

I had thought in my own head that it’d be just like a Timbers match. All of the same folks I see at Timbers matches would be there, and we’d do what we do in a slightly varied manner. The chants may change, but many of the faces would be the same.

At this point I’m sure you, dear Reader, are thinking that I’m the cotton-headed ninny muggin.

When the Thorns FC season starts, I’m sure a lot of my friends are going to be there. I’m sure a lot of them are going to want to bang drums and chant. But, like at a reserves match, a lot of them are going to want to grab a beer and move to a place where they can become supporters of a different nature. Just like the folks who sit on either side of JWF and cheer their ass off when it suits them during Timbers matches

And who will fill their place in the North End? Will it be a concentration of Timbers Army? Will it be legions of teenage girls? Will it be curious people from the community who can’t get Timbers tickets but want to experience the beautiful game played by some of the best players in the world?

We don’t know. We just don’t.

They say in fighting everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. It is great to have a plan. But, it’s also vital to understand that you can’t build a plan that’s viable when you don’t understand all the variables.

How do you scale a tifo design when you have no idea who many people will be there to execute it? How many t-shirts do you order when you have no idea how many people will buy them? How many flags do you make when you have no idea how many people will wave them.

Do you go out and march bravely ahead and hope you don’t end up with 800 DVDs you can’t sell? Or, do you start small with some core things you know will work and then as lay of the land becomes clearer do you grow . . . . judiciously.

Anyone who loves soccer wants NWSL to succeed, and if they live here they want the “yet to be named supporters group” to be a shining example of what Women’s soccer support should be. But, it doesn’t have to all be done by mid-April for first kick.

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19 Responses to Op-Ed: Evolving my thoughts on Thorns FC Support

  1. Nicholas Garner says:

    Thanks Mike. Well said.

  2. Joaquin Gutierrez says:

    Well put Mike. I’ll be there, but most likely in the library.

  3. Lexi Stern says:

    Thanks for posting this, Mike. I do want to say, though, that some of these things are straw men. The quieter group mostly off camera discussing the game day experience has sensible folks in it, and the suggestions being entertained for first kick aren’t particularly overblown or unattainable or alienating. Certainly nobody has a desire to go in trying to dictate everything that happens from the top down.

  4. Ryan says:

    What?? Reason?????

    Splitter. ;)

  5. Rhonda Henderson says:

    Not having had any past experience in being part of a support group makes me amazingly naive I am sure, but when people said it needed to grow organically this was my thought: of course this group will grow organically, once it is given a good start. What it sounds like everyone is trying to do is the same thing you do with a new rose: give it a great root stock, fertilize, water, prune where needed and once that rose is established, let it grow and flourish on it’s own. Isn’t that what we are trying to do?

    • Mike Coleman says:

      I the best way I can try and explain it w/ your rose analogy is you can plan a rose garden, but you might be completely wrong if you don’t know exactly what the soil is like, how much land you have, and the weather conditions. You still plan out the garden, you buy the stuff you know you’re going to need, and then you wait until you get to the plot of land before you fully commit all your resources.

      That being said, independent of this article and any 107ist “influence”, there has been a lot of talk today amongst the folks who were at the meeting on Friday about dialing back a bit (to paraphrase).

      • Basmah Rahman says:

        Nicely said Mike! I totally agree with you, especially with the final statements you made. Some folks, including myself, are worried that all this drama is drawing focus away from the Thorns themselves and the potential success of the women’s pro league before it’s even begun. I know that the players have a huge vested interest in the promotion of women’s pro leagues and growing the sport of soccer, maybe even more so then the male players in the MLS. At the same time, this isn’t the first attempt at a women’s pro league and in order to ensure that it doesn’t fall to the same fate as the previous league – where supporter-ship was extremely low – it makes sense to use lessons learned from building the 107ist and the TA over the years and proceed, as you said, judiciously, but with the experience/knowledge of what has already been proven to be effective and what hasn’t.

  6. Tom Bivens says:

    Very well said, sir.

    The bottom line is there is WAY too much drama over this. Those that want to get together and form a SG group should, and those that want to wait should wait. Thorns are going to be amazing with the squad we have. Sit back and enjoy it.

  7. todd diskin says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see multiple SG’s emerge with their own vision of support. It’s a new era and A LOT of people know A LITTLE BIT and have many opinions about SG’s these days. Very different times from the days of the pickle bucket brigade. It’s one thing to start a group from nothing (no supporters culture) from the environment today and “how you should support”. I wish the organizers well, but the cup of tea presented may not be the drink of choice for others. Should be interesting to watch.

    • Mike Coleman says:

      When I first read your comment I was set to reply “there is no way that would happen”. Now, just a short time late, I’m not so sure.

      Which is exactly why we need to proceed with caution. Let’s see how folks want to support, people will vote with their voices.

      I will say that I hope we don’t end up with “rival” SG’s – that, to me, would be just above no SG in terms of worst possible outcomes.

  8. Wendy Herrin says:

    After reading Twitter and Facebook posts, and the op-ed on the TA website, I worry a bit. There seems to be a let’s stand around and wait and see mentality or a I’m not sure I can be a Thorns fan because there will be young girls at the game and I can’t act the way I want response.

    I am not saying the TA should start organizing tifos or big merchandizing efforts right away, but I think it is important that the TA publicly states their support for the team. This is a great opportunity for Portland to lead the country and show their support for the women. We have some of the best players in the WORLD coming to play for us… Portland.

    I have been a season ticket holder and TA member and supported the men’s side since 2004. I had no qualms about supporting them because they were men and I am a woman. It is sad to see posts from guys that are disparaging or downright sexist. I don’t think I have even seen a post from a woman TA member making sexual references or sexist remarks about a Timbers player. We don’t want the world to see us as a bunch of Pricks, a name for a SG suggested by a few.

    TA needs to take the lead because there is really no reason to start from scratch. All of the lessons we have learned from the past can help as we support the women’s side. The only reason they aren’t called the Timbers is because Adidas won’t let that happen, but THE THORNS ARE THE TIMBERS. There is really no reason to have two separate support groups. Maybe a sub-group within the TA that is more dedicated to the Thorns, but not a whole separate organization. There is no time to let this grow “organically.” The team and the league need us NOW.

    Where to start? Just a TA official announcement that they plan to fully support the team. Maybe even inclusion of the Thorn info on the TA website. That alone will help some of those possible supporters who are on the fence. Do we want to see this team succeed or not?

    I am glad that there is a push now to discuss this. I look forward to helping out any way I can.

    • Mike Coleman says:

      Cross-posted from the Facebook group, but ETA: If you have any questions on exactly what my position is (because I don’t believe that what you wrote above is consistent with what I was trying to say, feel free to email me and we can discuss at length: mike.coleman@107ist.org)

      Separate TA from 107ist. 107ist should support the Thorns SG – Timbers Army exists to support the Portland Timbers.

      Many members of the TA will also be members of Thorns SG, but not all of them.

      The 107ist exists, as Eric points out (on Facebook), to support soccer from the grassroots to the highest level – which includes Thorns and Timbers.

      Furthermore, the 107ist has already stated (repeatedly through many avenues) that we will work with the new SG to ensure success. The board fully understands how important our support is not only to the success of the team, but the league as a whole.

      All that being said, you don’t just wake up some April morning and have EVERYTHING that we have today. It’s not going to take 10 years to build it up like it did for the TA, but it’s going to take more than 3 months (which was the point of the Op Ed I wrote).

  9. todd diskin says:

    nope. YOU need to find the folks YOU want to go to matches with and as a group, cheer and root and sing the way YOUR GROUP wants to. Over time the people in the stands will decide which way they will want to support and where the organization seems to have the most legs. The collective group that is meeting regularly would certainly have the best chance at succeeding based on the numbers of people who are participating and organizing. That said, if another group (or groups) emerged with something that was more appealing, then that’s the will of the people. TA is for Timbers. Period.

    By the way…the TA was built on “standing around and waiting…” I hope those who are helping organize the Thorns support have a memory of this.

  10. T.A. Barnhart says:

    the #1 way to support Thorns FC is to get in the queue for season tickets, something i did immediately. ticket sales will determine NWSL’s success. and with Morgan, Sinclair and Heath as the core of this team – a line-up universally agreed to be tops in the league at this point – this is a team soccer fans should be excited to see. the best woman’s player in the world now plays for Portland! how cool is that?

    i am concerned that the Timbers will try to control the supporters group. their selection of a team name that began with a “T” showed they want the Thorns to mirror the Timbers as much as possible, and there is one sole reason for that: marketing. ie, money. what the club turns into, i have no idea. i just hope the fans resist the Timbers’ marketing dept’s efforts & do their own damn thing. i know i will.

  11. Brendan O'Hanlon says:

    What’s the point of tifo if the match won’t be televised?

    Hah! I’m inclined to be more “wait and see” and “let things develop” mentality, but I also agree with Wendy that we should do what we can to support the Thorns. Does that mean getting out there as Timbers Army or starting up a new supporters group? I don’t think so, largely because a different voice, mentality, and culture should come out of the Thorns, if only because it will be a different demographic (or because people want different things, or because there is room for two supporters cultures in this city). I don’t think people should go to Thorns games and think “Oh, it was great, it was just like the Timbers”. I’d be happy if were just like the Timbers games, but I’d also be happy with someone saying, “oh, it was great, like nothing I’ve ever seen before.”
    Anyway, I agree with Wendy that, if this is to be a success, it is partly up to us to MAKE it so, by our actions. I also agree with Mike that we should step back, observe, give something new and different the room to grow in a new and different direction.
    So, as an individual, if you plan on supporting the Thorns, then SUPPORT them. Make your commitment and pick up your season tickets. Bring your enthusiasm to the game, like you did when you first went to a Timbers match (but before you knew any of the chants).
    As an organization, I don’t have an answer as to whether we should be establishing a supporter’s group right off the bat. I’m inclined to say no, and would rather see enthusiasm for the team encouraged than squelched.
    Lastly, while I see the distinction between Timbers Army and 107ist, this is definitely something the 107ist should be involved in — not only because it is part of the mission, but because it will also inure to our benefit down the road.

  12. Brian T says:

    My question for the “wait and see” crowd is, how do you see it developing “organically”?? Because as I see it, if we wait until the matches start we’ll get to that point and everyone will be standing there looking at each other wondering, “who makes the first move.” I dont have the time or the inclination to be a part of the planning process, but I salute the people who have taken the initiative on this, as they’re clearly invested in the success of both the team and the accompanying SG.

  13. todd diskin says:

    y’all are trying too hard. If you have to ask how to grow things organically then it might be best to leave the gardening to others. But do enjoy the garden.

  14. Jarid says:

    Well.. I can guarantee the Thorns will have one more person cheering.
    Televised or not. I cheer. i’ll wave a flag. i’ll do whatever.

    Its for us. Portlanders. I show up and I cheer for us. Not for tv . Just show up.. and be the crowd they need. No more No less. be there for them. You’d be there for a friend, a family member. Why not expand that mindset.. keep portland weird.. and make portland better. one person at a time.

    my two cents.

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